For the second time in three weeks, a sentencing hearing scheduled Monday for a gang member who orchestrated a racially motivated firebombing attack on Black families living in a Los Angeles housing project was postponed.
Sentencing is now expected to take place sometime in the next two weeks for Carlos “Rider” Hernandez, 36, who pleaded guilty two years ago to five felonies, including using fire and carrying explosives to commit a federal felony and conspiracy to violate civil rights.
The charges together carry a mandatory minimum of 15 years to a possible life term in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Hernandez is currently serving a 17-year sentence on an unrelated California state case, which he began serving in June 2014.
In the early morning hours of May 12, 2014, Hernandez and seven other members of an East Los Angeles street gang, which claimed the Ramona Gardens public housing complex as its turf, prepared Molotov cocktails, smashed the windows of four apartments and threw the lit explosives into the units.
The attack by the Hispanic street gang was meant to rid Ramona Gardens of its Black tenants.
Three of the four targeted apartments were occupied by Black families, including women and children, who were sleeping at the time of the unprovoked attacks. No one was injured.
At the time, Ramona Gardens was occupied by about 95% Hispanic residents and roughly 3% percent Black residents, court documents show.
The gang members — who all pleaded guilty — violated the civil rights of the families, specifically the constitutional right to live in a home free from “injury, intimidation and interference based on race,” federal prosecutors said.
Hernandez, of Boyle Heights, said in his plea agreement that the order for the racially motivated attack had come from the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang that controls the majority of Hispanic gangs in Southern California.
The indictment states that Hernandez told the others to break the victims’ windows, allowing the Molotov cocktails to make a clean entry, ignite the explosives and throw them inside in order to maximize damage. One of the victims, a mother sleeping on her couch with her infant child in her arms, narrowly missed being struck by one of the weapons.
“Hernandez told the other co-defendants who were present that the African-American victims were being targeted for firebombing because of their race,” according to the plea agreement, in which Hernandez admitted that he “and the co-defendants knew that throwing firebombs into occupied residences after midnight created a substantial likelihood of causing serious bodily injury.”
Hernandez pleaded guilty in April 2019 to conspiracy to violate civil rights, violent crime in aid of racketeering, using fire and carrying explosives to commit a federal felony, using and possessing a firearm in a crime of violence, and violating the Fair Housing Act.
The other defendants who were charged in 2016 pleaded guilty to federal hate crimes and related offenses and were sentenced to prison terms of up to 12 years. All the defendants admitted that they participated in the attack because of the victims’ skin color and with the intent to force them to move away from the federally funded housing project in Boyle Heights.
As for Hernandez, the defense is requesting the mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years, and that it run concurrent to the remaining years the defendant has left in the unrelated state case. Hernandez has been in federal custody for over six years, and will likely spend close to 21 years in federal custody if the request is granted, defense attorneys said in papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.
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